A colorful tangle of leaves, vines and blue water fills the Adkins Arboretum gallery. This show of large, exuberant watercolors by Jennifer Berringer of
Casually mounted side by side and without frames, Berringer’s nearly four-foot-tall paintings stretch around the walls. They call to mind picture windows onto wooded streams very like Blockston Branch, which flows just outside the Arboretum Visitor’s Center and on into the forest.
Berringer, who teaches studio art at
“You’re down low on the water,” she says. “You get a different sense of things.”
In scenes continuing across two, three or even seven panels, branches lean down over the water, fragile roots spread like webs where swift currents have undermined stream banks, and tree trunks stretch high over the underbrush. There is a riot of activity as spirited and obsessively complex as nature itself.
Shaking her head at her own obsessiveness, Berringer says, “The first paintings started out with broader brushstrokes, then they got more and more detailed until it’s crazy.”
Berringer begins her paintings outdoors, starting by lightly brushing in the shapes of trees, vines and flowing water. Gradually she brings in bright but subtly hued color and a myriad of details.
“I start outside and then I bring it inside and see how it evolves,” she explains.
In addition to the large paintings, the show includes small sketchbook-sized watercolors. Painted early in the mornings, they are quick studies of land and sky. Farm fields stretch out in green and ochre patterns, shafts of sunlight slant between banks of clouds in fresh, concise brushstrokes.
While she doesn’t dispute the beauty of nature shown in her paintings, Berringer is quick to point out that nature in her paintings, as in reality, is not all peace and beauty.
“There’s chaos all through them,” she says. “The rising water brings down the trees. These invasive vines come in and strangle them.
A committed environmentalist, Berringer has an application pending to work in AmeriCorps VISTA’s watershed program. If she is accepted, she will work with communities facing issues such as abandoned mine reclamation, solid waste cleanup and water quality. She is particularly interested in the ability of nature to recover once damage is halted.
She says, “They should learn to leave things alone. Every gardener knows that if you leave a piece of earth alone, it’ll sprout.””
This show is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists. It is on view through July 25 at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center located at
Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in